How Abstinence-Only Education Is Keeping Children From Learning About Sexual Abuse
Starting around age 9, Harmony was asked to share the master bedroom with her mother and stepfather. That was their normal; she didn’t know it was unusual until much later.
When Harmony turned 15, her stepfather began sexually abusing her under the guise of a sort of arranged “marriage” between them, she had been conditioned to jokingly see herself as his second wife from age 9 seeing as all 3 of them had been sleeping on the same bed that long. It wasn’t until age 18 that she found the courage to tell her real father and ultimately escape her stepfather.
Harmony, in secondary school, tried to tell her friends about what was going on at home. “she’d say”, “I have a secret and it’s that I’m in an arranged marriage or I’m betrothed or I’m basically promised to someone and yes, I’ve met him. I know him and he’s a lot older, maybe in his 40s, that means he’s about 30 years older than me.” And their reactions were basically, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really strange, but I’ll keep your secret,’ which turned out not to be the reaction she wanted or hoped for.
And sometimes, she would leave class to go vomit for more than 10 minutes at a time, hoping that someone would notice and try to really find out what was wrong with her, start a dialogue, or just say something; but no one ever did…
Harmony’s horrific story highlights the importance of teaching children and adolescents what child sexual abuse and rape looks like and how important it is to report it. Sadly, even as there is a provision in the Child Rights Act which requires schools to give kids age-appropriate sex education, it isn’t currently being enforced in our public schools and only just gaining ground in private schools. It is important that children are educated on body safety, how to recognize inappropriate attention and behaviours from an adult and how to report abuse. This is highly crucial. Since most sexual abuse begins well before puberty, preventive education, if it is to have any effect at all, should begin early in primary school.
What abstinence-only sex education teaches is that a monogamous, marital, heterosexual relationship is the “expected standard of human activity” and that sex outside of such a relationship will be physically and psychologically harmful. Abstinence-only education also advocates only one method to prevent disease and pregnancy, abstinence, and it offers no information concerning contraception and disease prevention except that all methods other than abstinence fail. As a result of its singular focus, it not only poses significant problems with respect to ensuring minors’ sexual health but also ignores other forms of relationships which could introduce minority youth to sex, relationships that are far harmful and exploitative like, sexual abuse and rape.
According to research, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and even with wide campaigns on the issue, lots of people still think sexual abuse is just touching offences, while in reality, it’s touching and non-touching offences. More often than not, a lot of children are being groomed with these non-touching offenses and then moving on to touching and more harmful abuse. (Examples of non-touching abuse include making children watch porn or pose naked for photos.)
Helping children understand the qualities of unsafe people and people who break their boundaries, can give them the tools they need to recognize the signs and be able to speak up to a safe adult. Ideally, information on sexual abuse should be integrated into a general curriculum of sex education, sex education should also be separate from biology class. In countries where such laws are enforced, it has been shown conclusively that children and teenagers can learn what they most need to know about sexual abuse and other forms of sexual assault, without becoming unduly frightened or developing generally negative sexual attitudes. In addition to basic information on sexual relations and sexual assault, children and teenagers need to know that they have the right to their own bodily integrity and understand that they have the responsibility to respect that right in others as well.
A lot of times, children who are undergoing sexual abuse or who have been raped, don’t have the right language to call it what it is, don’t want to call it what it is or have been groomed not to call it that. So hearing another perspective at least starts those questions in their minds that they really need to be asking because they have been groomed not to. Having that counter-education would be highly beneficial, and it could save many lives.